Ancients of Daysby Paul J. McAuley
On an artificial world created and seeded with ten thousand bloodlines by the long-vanished Preservers, young Yama's ancestry is unique, for he appears to be the last remaining scion of the Builders, closest of all races to the worshiped architects of Confluence. And on a day near the end of the world, Yama must finally
Time, Like A River, Must One Day Run Dry.
On an artificial world created and seeded with ten thousand bloodlines by the long-vanished Preservers, young Yama's ancestry is unique, for he appears to be the last remaining scion of the Builders, closest of all races to the worshiped architects of Confluence. And on a day near the end of the world, Yama must finally acknowledge the power he neither anticipated nor desires.
To the common folkthe unshaped and aboriginalhe is the fulfillment of age-old prophecies. To the functionaries of the Department of Indigenous Affairs, he is a weapon to be molded and used in the bloody civil war raging at the planet's midpoint. But there are still others who have taken notice of Yama as he pursues the hidden secrets of his past. Intelligent powers older than the Buildersas old, perhaps, as the Preservers themselvesare pursuing Yama in turn. And they will stop at nothing to control his presentand, as a result, the future of everything that lives.
Paul J. McAuley won a Philip K. Dick Award for his debut novel, Four Hundred Billion Stars. He won the Arthur C. Clarke and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards for his novel Fairyland. In addition he has published five other novels-including Child of the River,the first book of Confluenceand two collections of short stories. In 1995, his short story, "The Temptation of Dr. Stein," won the British Fantasy Society Award. Mr. McAuley is a regular contributor to the British SF magazine Interzone and writes reviews for Foundation. He lives in London.
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Pandaras entered the shadowy arena of the Basilica just as one half of the defense force charged at the other. Tamora led the point of the attacking wedge, screaming fearsomely; Yama ran up and down behind the double rank of the defending line and shouted at his thralls to stand firm.
The two sides met with a rattle of padded staves against round arm shields. Shadows shifted wildly as fireflies swooped overhead like a storm of sparks. For a moment it seemed that the attack must fail, but then one of the thralls in the defending line gave ground to Tamora's remorseless blows. Instead of closing the gap as the man went down in the press, the first rank wavered and broke, stumbling backward into the second. Yama shouted the order to regroup, but his thralls fell over each other or simply dropped their shields and staves and ran, and the wedge formation of the attacking force dissolved as thralls began to chase each other around the Basilica.
In the middle of the confusion, Tamora. threw down her stave in disgust, and Yama blew and blew on his whistle until everyone stopped running. Pandaras came toward them, trotting over the pattern of chalked lines Tamora had carefully drawn on the marble floor that morning. His two fireflies spun above his small sleek head. He said cheerfully, "Did they do something wrong? I thought it was very energetic."
"You should be in the kitchen with the rest of the pan scourers," Tamora said, and went off to round up the thralls so that she could tell them exactly what they had done wrong. Her own fireflies seemed to have caught some of her anger; they flared with bright white light andwhirled around her head like hornets sprung in defense of their nest. Her long queue of red hair gleamed like a rope of fresh blood. She wore a plastic corselet, much scratched and scored, and a short skirt of overlapping strips of scuffed leather that left her powerfully muscled legs mostly bare.
Pandaras said, "They are armed with sticks, master. Is that part of your plan?"
"We do not dare give them proper weapons yet," Yama told the boy. Like the thralls, he wore only a breechclout. The floor was cold and gritty under his bare feet, but he was sweating in the chill air, and his blood sang. He could feel it thrilling under his skin. His vigorous black hair was bushed up by the bandage around his forehead. A ceramic disc, of the kind believed to have been used as coins in the Age of Enlightenment, hung from his neck on a leather thong. At his back, his knife hung in its goatskin sheath from a leather harness that went over his shoulders and fastened across his chest.
He said, "We had them at drill most of the day. You should see how they keep in step!"
Pandaras looked up at his master, affecting concern. "How is your head, master? Is the wound making you feverish? You seem to think an army of polishers and floor sweepers, armed only with sticks, can frighten away the crack troops of the Department of Indigenous Affairs by putting on a marching display."
Yama smiled. "Why are you here, Pandaras? Do you really have something to tell me, or have you come expressly to annoy Tamora? I hope not. She is doing the best she can."
Pandaras looked to either side, then drew himself up until his sleek head was level with Yama's chest. He said, "I have learned something. You may have exiled me to the bowels of this broken-backed, bankrupt and debauched department, but I have still been working hard for you."
"You chose your place, as I remember."
Pandaras said, "And now you may thank me for my foresight. I have news which affects our whole scheme here, and I beg to be allowed to lay my prize at your feet. I don't think you'll be displeased."
"You have been spying, Pandaras. What did you find?"
"It was in the mausoleum they call the Hall of the Tranquil Mind," Pandaras said. "While you two have been playing soldiers with the hewers of wood and drawers of water, I've been risking my life in intrigue. A deadly game with the worst of penalties for losing, but I have had the good fortune to learn something that affects our whole scheme."
The Hall of the Tranquil Mind was a black, windowlessedifice carved out of the basalt wall of the big cavernwhich housed the Department of Vaticination. Yama hadthought that it was locked up and derelict, like so muchof the Department.
He said, "I suppose you went there to meet your sweetheart. Are you still chasing that scullion? You are dressed for the part."
Pandaras had washed and mended his ragged clothes and polished his boots. He had found or stolen a red silk scarf which was knotted around his long, flexible neck with such casual elegance that Yama suspected he had spent half the morning getting it just so. His two fireflies spun above. his head like living jewels.
He winked and. said, "Chased, caught, wooed, won. I didn't come to boast of my conquests, master. It's an old told, and there's not time. We're in mortal peril, if I'm any judge of the situation."
Yama smiled. His self-appointed squire loved to conjure drama from the slightest of events.
Pandaras said, "There is a gallery that runs along one side of the Hall of the Tranquil Mind, under the rim of the dome. If you happen to be standing at the top of the stairs to the gallery, and if you place your ear close to the wall, then you can hear anything said by those below. A device much favored by tyrants, I understand, who know that plotters often choose public buildings to meet, for any gathering in a public place can be easily explained away. But fortune favors the brave, master. Today I was placed in the role of tyrant, and I overheard the whispered plotting of a pair of schemers."
Pandaras paused. Yama had turned away to look across the shadowy Basilica. Tamora was marshalling the reluctant thralls into three ranks. Her voice raised echoes under the shabby grandeur of the vaulted dome.
Pandaras said, "It is more important, master, than playing at soldiers."
"But this is important, too. It is why we are here, to begin with, and besides, it is useful to stay in practice."
Yama did not add that it helped satisfy something in him that hungered for action. His sleep had been troubled by bloodthirsty dreams ever since he had entered the Palace of the Memory of the People, and sometimes an unfocused rage stirred up headaches that filled his sight with jagged red and black lightnings, and left him weak and ill. He had been hard-used since he had reached Ys and escaped Prefect Corin, and he had been wounded in an ambush when they had first arrived outside the gates of the Department of Vaticination. He needed rest, but there was no time for it.
He said, "I must hear what Tamora has to say. Walk with me, Pandaras."
"The blow to the head has given you delusions, master. You believe yourself a soldier."
"And you believe that you are my squire, so we are equally deluded. Hush, now. We will speak of what you heard when Tamora has finished with our poor warriors."
Tamora had jumped on to a square stone plinth which had once supported a statue--only its feet remained, clad in daintily pointed slippers which still retained traces of...
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